Tips and Stories for Runners Using The Bathroom on Race Day
Whether it is your first or one hundredth race you probably have a system to prepare yourself for the day. The development of this system involves putting your bag, clothes, and race entry in one place. Double-checking the time of the race, calculating the distance to the race, allocating plenty of time to arrive early enough not to be stressed, and checking the weather. That is just getting to the race. Once you are there you normally have number and shirt pickup followed by a warm-up. You can practice and refine all these steps to eliminate distractions leading to your race. However one item that you can never seem to plan or control that can thoroughly derail your race plans that day, the bathroom. For runners, using the bathroom can be a tricky endeavor.
I know you take them for granted but do you really know what it is going to be like before you arrive at the race? No race form I ever filled out says “Bathrooms are clean and plentiful, no waiting.” The nature of racing causes all of us to at least think about a bathroom just before the race. The stress of the long line only adds to this concern.
Even if you get to use the bathroom it can be problem. The first race I went to with my future wife was at an elementary school and I was able to assure her that they had real bathrooms. However as she walked out of the bathroom with her eyes the size of saucers and muttering about the unique aroma of the competitive spirit, I knew the thrill of the race had been compromised.
My wife would take the next step into bathroom hell at a July race where she met the Porta Potty. It was not her first one but it was unmistakable the shudder when she exited the green swinging door. Only one comment, “It is filled to the rim and I will hurl if I continue to think about it.” These instances may answer the question why my son races with me but not my wife. I cannot imagine the look on her face if she would have been at the 15 mile race where the person responsible to open the school for the bathrooms did not show up. Luckily mature hedges and forested pockets dotted the grounds, however it was February in Ohio. That Porta Potty would have looked good that day.
My Bathroom Strategy
Now do not get the idea that I think getting to a bathroom in a timely fashion is left to fate. After all these years I do have a bathroom strategy and I will share it with you just this once. Then it is everybody for themselves. My tip for runners using the bathroom: No matter the race location I walk by the most obvious bathroom, which normally has a line anyway. Every building normally has another floor or wing that is not being used directly for the race. Schools, recreation centers, and hotels always have more than one bathroom and all you have to do is look for it. You will be rewarded by the sight of a bathroom just for you while downstairs, down the hall, or across the field your running mates are hopping on one foot hoping the toilet paper does not run out before they get there.
My last comment on bathrooms occurred at a 2003 Marathon. Prior to the Boston bombings you could wander from the start area to adjoining side streets as you awaited the race. No matter the number of Porta Potties lining the street, the lines queuing up to them were endless. Therefore I veered into a side street where I found my fellow male runners inspecting the back of trash bins and obscure corners with their heads down and their hands folded in prayer, just a little lower than normal.
I joined the prayer vigil and as I started to exit I saw an attractive female running towards me. She stopped me and said the magic words,” Will you guard the stairwell for me?” Normally a reasonable person would question this request but remember I said attractive female and my reply was of course and I squared around as she disappeared into the short down stairwell with the drain in the bottom that occupies several places along the side street.
I wasn’t sure what I was guarding against (Jedi Knights, Hells Angels, Young Republicans?) or what I would do if I was forced to actually defend the stairwell (strategic retreat, crazed charge, negotiated surrender?) but I held my post. She came out before danger arrived and thanked me and we went our separate ways to run the Marathon. Somehow the race itself was an anticlimax.
Michael Reynolds is a Dublin, OH runner who has completed more than 1,000 races. The Intertrust
Cayman Islands Marathon was Mike’s 74th marathon, on his way to completing at least 100 marathons.